Marketing: Taboo in Physical Therapy Schools?

marketing-physical-therapyPhysical therapy schools don’t teach marketing, period.

Most of my knowledge in physical therapy marketing has been self-taught. All the years spent in physical therapy school, and I was not taught how to communicate with doctors, establish automated referral systems or stimulate patient referrals.

Most physical therapists learn this the hard way, the expensive way. We pay and play, wasting hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars on expensive consultants and fruitless advertising.

Are physical therapy colleges churning out high quality clinicians with an inability to efficiently run a practice in the real world? It’s a delicate balance, because physical therapy schools do what they do best – teach us the clinical skills necessary to provide the highest quality of patient care.

If that were enough for a successful practice, my wife and I (both PTs) would be making 7 figures now.

We know our ability to hit 7 figures is entirely dependent on marketing physical therapy services, in addition to our clinical skills.

A physical therapy degree needs to arm you with marketing skills that teach you how to promote your practice effectively. Other skills like leadership, administration, and management must be included in your training because these help you deal with the clinic’s daily operations, which involve staffing, billing, and cash flow. Learning these skills also help you deal with problems that eventually crop up and allow you to handle them with more finesse.

The APTA’s Normative Model guides the curriculum in physical therapy colleges and universities. Currently, the approved curriculum contains 5 areas of business and management skills that new graduates must master. These include: establishment of a business plan, participation in financial management, direction and supervision of human resources, participation in marketing and public relations and use of other business strategies in physical therapy management.

However, the model does not indicate which type of skills are needed the most, nor does it indicate what level of this skill or what specific knowledge is needed to survive in the real world. There are no specific guidelines leaving you to wonder if these are even adequate or appropriate subjects that need to be included in the curriculum to begin with.

Consequently, physical therapy students graduate without really knowing how to run and market their practice in the real world. So there is a huge gap in theory and practice and idealistic, new graduates who start a private practice have no clue on how to market. They end up spending on advertising that may or may not work.

For example, physical therapists spend a good deal of money on colorful and glossy brochures and on expensive prescription pads thinking this is a great way to promote their practice. But without the marketing knowledge to analyze this move, these therapists would not have realized that these are commonly done by all or most other therapists, so it actually does not set you apart from competitors. Brochures are the least effective form of advertising. A combination of online, offline, external and internal marketing mechanisms is critical to the success of a private practice, and this must be talked about in physical therapy schools.

Another example of a marketing strategy is meeting up for lunch with doctors. While this strategy can be effective at times, it is also useful to know that doctors are so used to pharmaceutical reps offering so many more incentives than a therapist can even afford to offer, that this strategy may not be as effective after all. Besides, other therapists are doing the same thing so the doctor in question may already be inundated with offers.

The solution must begin at the source;  in a physical therapy school curriculum. Until the curriculum is improved, graduates will have to find other ways to strengthen marketing skills.

Hopefully, they don’t have to waste thousands of dollars to learn basic lessons in marketing from non-therapists i.e consultants claiming to be physical therapy experts.

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